It's nice of Microsoft to make this security update broadly available, but it's also imperative for Redmond to do so - after all, the reputation of Windows is on the hook.
The software giant is taking this "highly unusual" step to fight back against the WannaCrypt ransomware cyber attacks that have so far hit almost 100 countries around the world. French vehicle maker Renault halted production at some factories to stop the virus from spreading, a spokesman said.
Fortunately, Windows 10 customers were not targeted in Friday's attack.
The ransomware was initially found spreading through attachments in email phishing campaigns. Bloomberg Businessweek wrote in 2015 about a spate of malware infections at hospitals where radiology machines, blood-gas analysers and other devices were compromised and used to siphon off the personal data of patients.
Since early Friday morning, reports have been coming in about a massive ransomware attack sweeping through Windows PCs in Europe.
Microsoft stopped issuing global patches for XP in April 2014, though it does still provide essentially security updates for the OS to companies who stump up extra cash for the privilege. "I find it everywhere", says Dillon, adding that WannaCry, too, "is going to be on networks for years". WannaCry exploited common techniques employees use to share files via a central server. Once one computer in a system was infected, the malware spread to other machines on the same network.
"When any technique is shown to be effective, there are nearly always copycats", said Steve Grobman, chief technology officer of McAfee, a security company in Santa Clara, California.
All told, several cybersecurity firms said they had identified the malicious software, which so far has been responsible for tens of thousands of attacks, in more than 60 countries.
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The statement said: "A number of NHS organisations have reported to NHS Digital that they have been affected by a ransomware attack".
"More widely we ask people to use the NHS wisely while we deal with this major incident which is still ongoing". The attack was the latest in a growing menace of "ransomware", in which hackers deliver files to computers that automatically encrypt their data, making it unusable - until a ransom is paid.
The damage might have been temporarily contained.
Britain's National Cyber Security Center said it could have been much worse if not for a young cybersecurity researcher who helped to halt its spread by accidentally activating a skill switch in the malicious software. But experts also warn that WannaCry's developers may be working on other versions that won't be easy to disable. But attackers can, and probably will, simply develop a variant to bypass this countermeasure.
How can future attacks be prevented?
Companies are often slow to apply these fixes, called patches, because of worries that any software change could break some other program, possibly shutting down critical operations. "Part of what an organization needs to understand and assess is what those two risks are". A top Russian mobile operator said Friday it had come under cyberattacks that appeared similar to those that have crippled some United Kingdom ho.
Many companies and individuals have not installed the fixes yet or are using older versions of Windows that Microsoft no longer supports and did not fix.
"The problem is the larger organizations are still running on old, no longer supported operating systems", said Lawrence Abrams, a New York-based blogger who runs BleepingComputer.com.